Rye whiskey is bourbon’s fun-loving cousin. It’s often drier, more herbal/floral, funkier, and, sure, it can be spicier. And since we’re all chin-deep in the latest whiskey boom, there are new rye whiskeys hitting shelves at a non-stop pace. Meaning it’s a lot to sort through.
That’s where I come in. I’m lucky enough to get a lot of tryes to try — so much so that it’s time for yet another blind taste test of rye whiskeys.
For this blind tasting, I grabbed some new (and new-ish) ryes along with a few new batches of old standards (I picked up the Sazerac Rye from the distillery last week) and stacked them up against each other in a blind tasting. The idea was to cast a wide net with stuff on the shelf right now. Naturally, that’ll depend on what gets to your region or not.
That makes our lineup today the following bottles:
- Blackwood Toasted Rye Whiskey Small Batch (New)
- Proof And Wood Polish Whiskey 100% Rye Aged 8 Years ‘The Stranger’
- Sazerac Rye Straight Rye Whiskey
- Tattersall Wi-Ski Straight Rye Whiskey Maple Syrup Barrel Aged (New)
- Roulette Rye Straight Rye Whiskey 4 Years Old
- Old Elk Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Rum Barrels (New)
- Kentucky Owl Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 11 Years Limited Edition Bayou Mardi Gras XO Cask (New)
- Proof And Wood Crossborder Jackpot Whiskey
When it comes to ranking these bottles, that is all about the taste. I’m looking at the depth of flavor and the journey these profiles take me on as I taste them. In the end, the taste of these whiskeys is why we’re all here. So check out the ranking below and hit those price links to try the best ones yourself!
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Part 1: The Tasting
Nose: The nose is a straight-up classic with a sense of cherry and cinnamon tied to fresh and chewy tobacco with a sense of old cedar bark braided with dry sweetgrass and smudging sage with a light sense of pear candy and cream soda.
Palate: The taste leans into spiced cherry tobacco and stewed pear with a hint of marmalade and peach cobbler next to a hint of black-tea-soaked dates, salted whiskey-laced toffee, and clotted cream before a red chili pepper spiciness kicks in with a sense of cinnamon and cherry bark.
Finish: The woodies of the orchard fruit and spice drive the warm finish — but never hot — toward a luxurious and creamy end full of sharp yet sweet tobacco, a whisper of dank resin, and echoes of old fruit orchards.
Well, this is a fantastic pour of whiskey. The first pour out of the gate is going to be the whiskey to beat.
Nose: Peppermint candy canes mix with candied orange rinds, winter spices, a touch of caramel sweetness, and some black peppercorns.
Palate: There’s a mint chocolate chip vibe to the taste that gives way to old oak, woody Christmas spices, and a hint of burnt orange with a whisper of sweetgrass.
Finish: Dark orchard fruits and barks lead the way on the finish toward a bright mintiness next to burnt orange layered into dry tobacco and cedar bark.
This is pretty nice overall. It’s complex and balanced but not overly deep.
Nose: There’s a vanilla base that supports anise, sasparilla, clove, cardamom, and a hint of red peppercorn with a very soft minerality.
Palate: The palate has big Christmas-time vibes with candied fruits and nuts with plenty of dark spice alongside more of that red peppercorn with old pine wood paneling lurking in the background.
Finish: The finish is soft with candied fruits creating a spicy cream soda with an old sweetgrass rope drying things out that ultimately leads to a proofed finish.
This starts off lighter, peaks in the mid-palate, and then ends pretty light. There’s a lot going on but you really have to dig to find it. This feels like a mixing whiskey.
Nose: There’s a butterscotch note on the nose next to a lot of citrus with a pancake syrup sweetness and an old blended whiskey vibe.
Palate: Lemon pepper dominates the palate with a sense that you’ve time-traveled back to 2005.
Finish: The end has a slight graininess that circles back to the citrus and butterscotch.
Nose: There’s a mix of soft leather and mild chili spice next to orchard fruits and barks with a sense of dried fruits and dried sweetgrasses with a hint of vanilla tying it all together.
Palate: Sweet prunes and raisins draw you in on the taste as a nutty chocolate creaminess is accented by fresh mint with a touch of winter-spiced tobacco.
Finish: The end leans into the woody winter spices and soft tobacco with a well-rounded sense of mint, chocolate, and creamy dried fruits.
This was pretty nice all things considered. It wasn’t a “wow” pour but it wasn’t bad by any stretch either.
Nose: There’s a clear sense of grilled pineapple and clove on the nose that leads to woody tropical spices and an overall feel of rummy tropical cocktails with plenty of spicy booze in them.
Palate: The palate leans into the woody spice bark with bitter orange, bright lemon, and a hint of lime leaves before delving into vanilla pods and a touch of warm tobacco.
Finish: The tobacco drives the finish toward a whisper of mango and pineapple with a dried and almost salted vibe before ending up in a nice and rummy-spiced note.
This is a nice rum-finished whiskey. It leans pretty heavily in that direction but it’s not distracting.
Nose: There’s a soft leatheriness on the nose with a sense of old rye bread, sweet butter, and winter spices layered into a vanilla cake.
Palate: The taste is on the sweeter end with dark cherry and stewed plum next to orange marmalade, allspice berries, creamy vanilla pudding, and a mild sense of dry and old herb gardens.
Finish: The lush end layers in that sweet butter and creamy vanilla with a sense of clove tobacco, sharp and spicy root beer, and lush eggnog with plenty of nutmeg.
This is deep, luxurious, and just plain tasty. I want more of this one.
Nose: Woody spices and caramel candy mix on the nose as orange and pepper lean into a vanilla cake and a hint of soft leather.
Palate: Cinnamon bark and cedar planks bind with a sense of dry grains and some sweetgrass next to a mild line of apple cider syrup with a dash of rye caraway.
Finish: The end leans into winter spices and more dry grains with a hint of cinnamon tobacco.
This was perfectly fine. There’s nothing wildly exciting about it and nothing wrong with it.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Tattersall Wi-Ski Straight Rye Whiskey Maple Syrup Barrel Aged — Taste 4
Average Price: $35
This whiskey is a collaboration between Tattersall Distillery and the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. The whiskey is a three-year-old rye that’s finished maple syrup barrels that once held bourbon. After six months, those barrels were batched, proofed, and bottled.
This tastes bad. It feels like the first attempt at making rye whiskey in 2005. Hard pass.
7. Sazerac Rye Straight Rye Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $34
Sazerac Rye is an entry-point whiskey and a throwback to the 1800s. The brand was named after the famed Sazerac Coffee House on Royal Street in New Orleans where the Sazerac cocktail was born. Today, this expression is a true classic made at Buffalo Trace from their iconic rye mash bill.
This is just a little too proofed down. It’s really made for mixing cocktails and highballs so use it for that.
6. Proof And Wood Crossborder Jackpot Whiskey — Taste 8
Average Price: $79
This whiskey is a blend of three different whiskeys. The main components are a Canadian rye (91/9 rye/malted barley) from Canadian Whiskey Distillers in Lethbridge and an American rye (95/5 rye/malted barley) from MGP of Indiana. The last component is a Canadian corn whiskey (97/2.7/0.3 corn/rye/malted barley). Those whiskeys were all seven years old before they were blended and finished in ex-rye whiskey barrels for a final rest.
This rye-heavy blended whiskey was tasty enough. It’s clearly better suited for mixing than sipping.
5. Proof And Wood Polish Whiskey 100% Rye Aged 8 Years ‘The Stranger’ — Taste 2
Average Price: $64
This is a big outlier. The whiskey in the bottle is a Polish-made 100% rye whiskey that’s aged in the U.S. in ex-bourbon and ex-rye barrels. The rye whiskey spent eight years aging before 10 barrels were chosen for this batch.
This was pretty good all things considered. It was interesting, just standard. I can see sipping this over some rocks in a pinch. Otherwise, I’d mix it into a cocktail.
4. Roulette Rye Straight Rye Whiskey 4 Years Old — Taste 5
Average Price: $23
This is four-year-old Indiana rye (95/5 rye/malted barley) that’s small batched by Proof and Wood. The whiskey is proofed down to 100 proof and specifically built for mixing cocktails.
Yup, this felt like a solid cocktail base, so mission accomplished.
3. Old Elk Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Rum Barrels — Taste 6
Average Price: $89
This is a five-year-old 95/5 (rye/malted barley) rye whiskey. The nuance here is in the finish. That 95/5 rye is re-barreled in 14-year-old Barbados rum barrels for a final two to five-month-long finishing touch. Those barrels are then touched with water before bottling.
This was deeply hewn and played well with the finishing barrel. This feels like an easy sipper over some ice that’ll also work well in a cocktail.
2. Kentucky Owl Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 11 Years Limited Edition Bayou Mardi Gras XO Cask — Taste 7
Average Price: $500
The latest limited edition from Kentucky Owl celebrates Mardi Gras with a small release of rum-finished whiskey. The whiskey in the bottle is 11-year-old Kentucky straight rye that then spends another year in Bayou Rum XO casks from Louisiana.
This was very tasty rye. The rum and rye really melded well and created a dynamic sip of whiskey. That said, I’ll probably try this in a Sazerac next time.
1. Blackwood Toasted Rye Whiskey Small Batch — Taste 1
Average Price: $150
This rye is sourced from expertly picked barrels for a very small batch offering. The mash is a classic 95/5 rye/malted barley bill. The barrels are close to seven years old before a handful come together to create this barrel-strength bottling of only 620 bottles.
This was far and away the best whiskey on this panel and it wasn’t even close. This is so deep, enticing, and delicious that it almost haunts you after you taste it. This is the good stuff, folks.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
There was really only one bad whiskey on this list. Tattersall just missed the mark with that rye release. Numbers 7 through 3 were all fine. I do like the Old Elk but prefer their bourbons.
The Kentucky Owl Mardi Gras bottle was pretty damn tasty. But nothing came remotely close to that Blackwood Toasted Rye. It blew away the competition. It’s worth the high price of admission, trust me.